High Pain Tolerance: A Blessing and a Curse

I’ve recently had the displeasure of having kidney stones. If I had to choose between what pain I prefer: kidney stone pain or an endometriosis flare-up, I’d choose endometriosis pain any day. Nothing is worse than kidney stones. But because I’m used to terrible pain, I have a fairly high pain tolerance. I can function passably while suffering from intense pain. You wouldn’t be able to tell from my voice how much pain I’m in, or even from looking at me. But that doesn’t mean the pain isn’t there.

High pain tolerance can be good

This high tolerance to pain can be a blessing. Despite having suffered with kidney stones for the past month, I haven’t asked for sick leave and I’ve been able to take care of my kids even while my husband was away. I haven’t needed very strong pain killers in order to manage the pain, which is of course good news for my liver.

Another instance where a high pain tolerance benefited me was when I gave birth to my kids. With my first, I had to be induced, which always leads to more painful contractions, and I was able to breathe through them for nearly a full day before I had to get an epidural.

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High pain tolerance can be bad

At the same time, having a high pain tolerance can be bad. Even though we are in the 21st century, doctors still view women as hysterical, especially when it comes to pain. Any woman who suffers from endometriosis will back me up when I say that doctors simply don’t believe a woman when she tells them she is in severe pain. Having a high pain tolerance—and being able to function despite being in pain—only affirms to the doctor that I exaggerate how much pain I’m in. This can then lead to misdiagnosis or even withholding of treatment as the doctor doesn’t take me seriously.

Doctors need to allow for subjectivity

Whenever you go to the doctor’s with pain complaints, they ask you to rate your pain on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being unbearable. But that’s a bit misleading. After all, pain is highly subjective. Someone who has suffered with chronic pain will rate their pain lower than someone whose life has been unmarred by health issues. A level 5 pain for someone with high pain tolerance might be a level 8 pain for someone else.

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Doctors should allow for this subjectivity. I know it’s not easy, but by asking a few questions, a doctor can ascertain whether or not someone has a high or low pain tolerance. The doctor can then take that into consideration when judging whether the pain level described by the patient is objectively high or low. In any other scientific experiment or test, there is always a baseline by which everything else is to be judged. Why shouldn’t there also be a base level for pain? If doctors established that, less women would suffer needlessly and would be taken more seriously. It’s a win-win, really.

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